Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
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Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Homme assis

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Homme assis
signed and dated '25.6.69. Picasso' (upper right)
oil on corrugated cardboard laid down on canvas
51¼ x 25 5/8 in. (130.2 x 65.1 cm.)
Painted in 1969
Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris.
Anonymous sale, Christie's, New York, 10 November 1999, lot 723.
Galerie Salis & Vertes, Salzburg.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, oeuvres de 1969, vol. 31, Paris, 1976, no. 283 (illustrated pl. 81 next to the original verso; see note).
The Picasso Project, eds., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture, The Sixties III, 1968-1969, San Francisco, 2003, no. 69-285, p. 187 (illustrated).
E. Mallen, ed., Online Picasso Project, Sam Houston State University, OPP.69:349 (accessed 2012).
Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Pablo Picasso, October 1988 - January 1989, no. 98.
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Lot Essay

Homme assis was painted on 25 June 1969, during an incredible surge of productivity and inspiration in Pablo Picasso's works. This was the run-up to his now famous exhibition in the Palais des Papes in Avignon in 1970, when he unleashed upon an unsuspecting art world a new, energetically-rendered pantheon of characters, each of whom burst from the wall through the vitality of their own sense of character and through the vitality of their creation, made so palpable in the brushwork that Picasso has used in Homme assis. Indeed, one of the pictures in the exhibition, now in the Museu Picasso, Barcelona, shows a very similar composition and featured in that show. Like that work, in Homme assis, some of the marks, for instance the yellow and black streaks of the figure's hair, are made with sweeping motions across the expanse of the surface, which is more than four feet high; others are jagged, while half of the hair has been rendered through circles which give the impression of the curls in the hair of some seventeenth-century cavalier. Meanwhile, a section of the background has been thickly covered in grey and white paint, thrusting the rest into relief; at the same time, that corner highlights the deliberately and pointedly humble material upon which Picasso has chosen to depict this seeming aristocrat of a lost age, corrugated cardboard. Indeed, the board upon which Homme assis was painted was thick enough that Picasso managed to create another image on the reverse a year later; that picture of a women has since been removed (it is listed in Zervos' catalogue raisonné of Picasso's works as XXXII 5). Picasso is irreverently playing with associations of nobility both in terms of his materials and his subject matter in order to create an investigation of painting itself while boldly confronting the legacies of two of his great artistic predecessors: Velasquez and Rembrandt.

The musketeer figures such as Homme assis were of relatively recent pedigree in Picasso's pictures by the time this work was painted. They had sprung to life in drawings and prints during the previous few years, and then suddenly appeared in his oils as well. Originally, Picasso thought of them as characters who would lead him who knew where as he developed variations on paper; soon, though, he turned to the medium of the Old Masters in order to explore them in a manner that had already been used in his confrontation with his fellow Spaniard Velasquez in his sequence of pictures inspired by the latter's masterpiece, Las meninas, now in the Prado, Madrid. The ruffs, padded jackets and beards of characters such as Homme assis owe themselves in part to that work and to Picasso's treatment of it.

The link with Velasquez in Homme assis appears more direct in that the pose of the subject, with the hands so emphatically thrust down, as well as the colour of the jacket and the shape of the beard recall his portrait of Don Sebastian de Morra, from around 1643-44, also in the Prado. That is in itself an ambiguous image, as it echoes the portraiture of the royals and grandees of the age, yet in fact shows a dwarf who was essentially at the court as an entertainer; this phenomenon was also documented in Las meninas. Velasquez has filled his picture with dignity and pathos, yet the situation of Don Sebastian is steadfastly ambiguous, a notion heightened by the fact that he is shown seated on the floor, emphasising his lowly stature.

Las meninas had doubtless been on Picasso's mind again by the time he painted Homme assis, as only the year before his friend and secretary, the poet Jaime Sabartès, had died; in commemoration, Picasso donated his own series of Las meninas pictures to what is now the Museu Picasso in Barcelona. The musketeers and other figures from that era also owed their existence to a range of other influences. He told Pierre Daix at one point that, 'It's all the fault of your old pal Shakespeare,' referring to some images of the playwright that he had created half a decade earlier to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his birth (Picasso, quoted in P. Daix, Picasso: Life and Art, trans. O. Emmet, New York, 1993, p. 355). Meanwhile, Jacqueline told André Malraux that 'Picasso had discovered those musketeers in an album on Rembrandt during his last illness,' referring to his convalescence from an operation he underwent in late 1965 (André Malraux, A. Malraux, Picasso's Mask, New York, 1994, p. 86).

The link between the dashing, often humorous characters such as Homme assis and Picasso's recuperation is often considered direct: with the death of many of his friends and his own illness, he was now fighting back thoughts of mortality. His iconoclastic reincarnations of Rembrandt's and Velasquez's knights and nobles were filled with bravura brushwork that spoke of the artist's incredible energy in creating them. Colour and character alike are present in Homme assis as well as Picasso's never-extinguished thirst for gleeful provocation, almost tangible in the near-Informel depiction of this face of days of yore, this proto-punk reincarnation of one of the protagonists of, say, Alexandre Dumas' Les trois mousquetaires.

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